Microplastics are contaminating our air, new research suggests

Microplastics from the ocean are being transported in the wind and are polluting our air, according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

From December 2017 to January 2019, researchers at Cornell University collected atmospheric microplastic data from the western U.S.

They found that 84% of the microscopic shards came from road dust, about 11% came from atmospheric sea spray and 5% was derived from agriculture soil dust. 

The researchers have highlighted that this 11% from sea spray is particularly alarming.

Having analysed where this pollution came from, the researchers found that oceanic action grinds plastic waste in the ocean into micron-size particles, where the wind then transports them into the atmosphere. 

Natalie Mahowald, professor in engineering at Cornell, and lead author of the study said: ‘We found a lot of legacy plastic pollution everywhere we looked; it travels in the atmosphere and it deposits all over the world.

‘This plastic is not new from this year. It’s from what we’ve already dumped into the environment over several decades.

‘We did the modelling to find out the sources, not knowing what the sources might be.

‘It’s amazing that this much plastic is in the atmosphere at that level, and unfortunately accumulating in the oceans and on land and just recirculating and moving everywhere, including remote places.

‘Using our best estimate of plastic sources and modelled transport pathways, most continents are net importers of microplastics from the marine environment. This underscores the cumulative role of legacy pollution in the atmospheric burden of plastic.

‘Microplastics are landing and accumulating in all sorts of places, it’s not just in the cities or the oceans. We’re finding microplastics in national parks.’

In related news, air pollution from car tyres can be up to 1,000 times worse than from an exhaust, research from Emissions Analytics has suggested.

Photo Credit – Pixabay

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